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What are the current flexible working rules and what changes have been proposed?

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In circumstances where you have at least 26 weeks' continuous employment, you have the right to make a request for flexible working under the statutory scheme providing you meet the following criteria:

  • You are an employee
  • You have been employed for at least 26 continuous weeks at the date the request is made
  • You have only made one request in any 12-month period
  • You are not an agency worker (this does not apply for those returning from periods of parental leave)

The purpose of a flexible working request is for an employee to request changes to their current working arrangement and terms, such as a change of hours, working times/patterns and/or place of work. The request itself will be assumed to be in place for permanent amendments to their contract, however they can also be requested for temporary periods.

For a request to be considered as a formal flexible working request, employees must ensure that their request follows the following format:

An employee's application must:

  • The request must be in writing
  • The request must be dated
  • The request should state that the application is made under the statutory procedure
  • The request should specify the change that the employee is seeking and when they wish the change to take effect
  • The request must explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks the change would have on the employer and how any such effect could be dealt with
  • The request should state whether the employee has previously made an application to the employer and, if so, when.

Employers have been guided under current flexible working rules to provide a response to any formal flexible working request within a reasonable time frame, but in any event within three months of the request being submitted.

The only circumstances where an employer can refuse to consider a request are set out as follows:

  • Eligibility - If either the employee is not eligible or the employee fails to comply with the procedure, then the employer would be entitled to refuse the request. However, employers should consider whether the application merits consideration, despite it not being a request permitted by the statutory scheme
  • The burden of additional costs
  • Detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • Inability to reorganise work among existing staff
  • Inability to recruit additional staff
  • Detrimental impact on quality
  • Detrimental impact on performance
  • Insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work
  • Planned structural changes

Proposed new flexible working rules

Following a consultation which sought views from individuals and businesses on proposals to reform flexible working regulations, in December 2022 the government published a summary which explains planned changes to the right to make a request for flexible working.

In summary, these include:

  • The employee no longer has to wait 26 weeks to be able to make a request for flexible working and the right to make the request will become a day one right.
  • Employees can now submit two flexible working requests in a 12-month period, rather than one.
  • The response time for an employer to reply to a flexible working request has been shorted from three months to two months.
  • In circumstances where an employer intends to refuse to accept a flexible working request, they will now be expected to consider alternatives to the request.

The full government response can be reviewed here.

There is currently no guideline which sets out when we can expect these changes to take effect, however it is reported that these changes are expected to take effect sooner rather than later.

If you are an employee and require assistance with submitting a flexible working request or are a business that seeks advice about how to be prepared to implement new policies on the back of the planned changes, please contact our employment team on 0161 696 6170 to speak to one of our advisors.